Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bishop’s Note: April 26, 2018 – The Voice of the Shepherd

Bishop Eric Menees

Last Sunday we celebrated “Good Shepherd Sunday.” After three weeks of joining the disciples in the upper room, this - the fourth week in Easter - we remembered Jesus’ statements about himself. Jesus declared: “I am the Good Shepherd!” Seven times in the gospel of John, Jesus makes statements like this:

I AM the bread of life (John 6:51).
I AM the Light of the world (John 8:14).
I AM the gate to the sheepfold (John 10:9).
I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).
I AM the Resurrection and the life (John 11:25). 
I AM the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).
I AM the vine and you are the branches. (John 15:5)
In the first century, it would have been impossible to hear these statements and not hear the voice of God as recorded in Exodus 3:14, when Moses asks God:

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

So, when Jesus says I AM, the clear claim is that he is God! No wonder the religious leaders were upset with Jesus. Of course, post resurrection we know that Jesus was not making an outlandish claim – he was stating the truth. And get this: the Lord of the Universe - the Good Shepherd - wants you to be in relationship with you!

A while back, there was a story floating around on the internet; one of that stories that people send around. Normally I don’t keep them, but sometimes they end up in my ”Sermon Illustration” file.

It seems that a famous actor was once the guest of honor at a social gathering, where he received many requests to recite favorite excerpts from various literary works. An old preacher, who happened to be there, asked the actor to recite the 23rd Psalm. The actor agreed, on the condition that the preacher would recite it also. The actor’s recitation was beautifully intoned with great dramatic emphasis, for which he received a lengthy standing ovation. The preacher’s voice was rough and broken from many years of preaching, and his dictation was anything but polished. But when he finished, there was neither applause nor a dry eye in the room. After the gala had concluded, someone asked the actor what made the difference in the Psalm. He replied: “I know the Psalm, but he knows the Good Shepherd.”

The question for us today is: when we read the 23rd Psalm, or we read the tenth chapter of the gospel of John where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd,” do we know the Shepherd? Do you know the Shepherd?

I pray you all a blessed week!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bishop’s Note: April 19, 2018 – Get Real

Bishop Eric Menees
Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson from Luke Chapter 24 describes the resurrection appearance of our Lord to the disciples on that first Easter Sunday.  Jesus appears to the disciples and says, “Peace.”  Last week we discussed the Peace of Christ as a gift of the Resurrection.  This week we see that another gift is that of His Real Presence.

[37] But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. [38] And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? [39] See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” [40] And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. [41] And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them,“Have you anything here to eat?” [42] They gave him a piece of broiled fish, [43] and he took it and ate before them.” (Luke 24:37-43 ESV)

Jesus doesn’t ignore the reality of their fears and doubts – he addresses them by demonstrating that He is REAL – His Resurrection is REAL! Not only has He risen from the dead - Jesus desires to be with us – to sit and eat with us – to love and teach us.

And that is exactly what we do every time we celebrate Holy Eucharist.
We set the table with bread and wine – to be invited to share in His body and blood.

I think of the hymn by George Wallace Biggs:
Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest;
nay, let us be thy guests; the feast is thine;

thyself at thine own board thyself make manifest
in thine own Sacrament of Bread and Wine"

Just as Jesus made himself manifest – physically present – to the disciples in the breaking so too He makes himself manifest when we come together around altar churches. The same churches which have known so much joy and sorrow.  Where babies have been baptized and young couples married and people of all ages mourned and placed into God’s loving hands.  Every time we gather for these life events we celebrate the Holy Eucharist – which is right and good.

When we place our hands out to receive the bread – his body – and the cup of wine – his blood – we gather as His guests not He as ours.

I pray you all a very blessed week!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Bishop’s Note: April 12, 2018 – Peace

Bishop Eric Menees

Last Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, the Gospel Lesson reminded us of Easter Evening, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room. Just as he’d promised, Jesus rose from the dead; fulfilling the plan that His Father had put in place in Genesis 3:15, when God said to Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” On that Easter day, Jesus had destroyed death and vanquished Satan.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, he gave them the gift of peace - which is a lasting mark of a disciple of Jesus Christ:

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)

Of course, “shalom” - Hebrew for peace - was a traditional greeting within first century Judaism (and still is today). However, this shalom was so much more than a simple cultural greeting. This peace was not the Eastern concept of peace, which results from detachment from the world. For example: If I have no attachments to the world, then no matter what happens I will know peace. I don’t believe that is peace, but rather denial. Nor was this the peace that comes from the mere absence of violence.

The peace Jesus offered then, and offers now, is so much more than those things: this is peace with God. Jesus didn’t blame the disciples for abandoning him; he didn’t shame the disciples for their lack of courage. Instead, he said: “Peace to you!” In Christ, the divide between God and man has been bridged by his sacrifice on the cross!

This peace is also peace among and between the disciples. Jesus’ declaration is both a desire and a benediction at the same time! The desire of Jesus is for the disciples, and all Christians, to live in harmony with one another, and with the world! Jesus told the disciples: “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) It is impossible to express the magnitude of this peace when it is lived out in Christ’s presence among us!

The Peace of Christ is the “Peace that passes all understanding,”  as St. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:7. This is the peace that comes with the knowledge of Christ’s presence. This is the peace that I recently witnessed with a young mother who was in labor and about to give birth two months early. I met with her in the hospital and prayed with her, and asked her how she was dealing with all that was going on. She simply said she was at peace. She said that she knew that God loved her little baby; that He loved her; that He was at her side; and that He would help her with whatever may come. What a blessing to see that kind of peace and that kind of grace. This is a result of Christ’s promise to us in baptism. Jesus never promises, “Believe in me, and all will be well.”  Jesus promises, “Believe in me, and I will never leave your side – no matter what.”

I’ve been equally blessed to see this across the diocese as congregations have had their property wrongfully confiscated; rather than fear and worry, the people of the congregation have been filled with a sense of calm expectation.

That is the Peace that passes all understanding!

I pray you all a very blessed week!